Usually when an artist rips up the rulebook and decides to take on “The Man” single-handedly, the odds are stacked so far against them that their shining star will implode like a broken Stella Artois bottle in the gutter on a Friday night after closing time.
The Others, and more to the point their main spokesperson Dominic Masters, didn’t consult the New Testament to making it in the music industry. Instead they’ve spent the last two years building up a loyal following, nee community (The 853 Kamikaze Stage Diving Division) that has seen their reputation grow from being scenesters on the London toilet circuit to a potentially nationwide phenomenon.
Forthcoming single ‘Stan Bowles’, written in homage to Masters’ buddy Pete Doherty, is expected to gatecrash the ‘proper’ charts any day now and every date of their tour so far has been packed to the rafters with 14-year-old kids rubbing shoulders with 40 year old ageing rockers.
If the shoegazing elite of 1991 (Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive) created the Scene That Celebrated Itself, then Masters and his fellow partners in crime (The Paddingtons, Thee Unstrung and The Cribs) have augmented the Scene That Celebrates The Libertines.
Tonight The Others will take to the stage at Nottingham’s Stealth, and already the amount of places allocated to members of the 853 Division is causing Dominic Masters some concern. Since leaving his mobile phone number on the band’s website, he’s now racked up in excess of 1,600 individual fans’ numbers from up and down the land, and with a fair few of those people having secured their name is on the door tonight thanks to the mercurial singer, the requests for tonight’s show come through thick and fast.
“Ever since the start of the band I’ve kept in contact with the fans, and that’s the difference between us and almost every other band you could care to mention. As the band has grown, I’ve always put my number on the website, or on the back of flyers. There’s 30,000 leaflets that have been distributed throughout the UK with all of our tour dates on and at the bottom is a message to phone this (my) number any time. It’s all about breaking down barriers between the fan and the celebrity. There should be no such thing as a celebrity.”
Certainly the community spirit instilled by The Others is reminiscent of the early days of The Clash, whereby they would regularly house fans in their hotel rooms for the night after a show. Their anti-elitism, anti-hierarchy stance has already seen them refuse to play certain venues and club nights over differences of opinion where club rules and policies are concerned.
“We were invited to play Trash in London about a year ago but I refused because they had a dress code policy and wouldn’t allow under 18s in which meant a large number of our 853 Kamikaze Stage Diving Division wouldn’t have been able to see the show. They have these two little bitches who walk up and down the queue and then pull people out who they think look cool enough to be allowed through the door of the club. We also refuse to play at the Queens Of Noize night on a Friday in Camden because they charge kids £9 to go and watch a gig when we could hire out the same venue at the same times on a Wednesday night and charge £4.”
The story of how the Others started probably won’t be found in any How To Form A Rock Band manual, but for Dominic Masters it seemed like his destiny after spending his teenage years in “shit bands” and then finding himself in a similar situation to most young adults up and down the land in that a) he was stuck in a humdrum 9-to-5 office job and b) a victim of circumstance in an increasingly unhappy marriage.
“When my marriage broke up I spent about 9-12 months just going out partying, finding myself really, and I’d regularly frequent places like Last Rockers and the Club For Losers. The thing about those places is that its mostly the same people who go each night so eventually people get to know your face and start talking to you and someone asked me what I did, so I said I was in a band. At the time I was actually still working in an office and I felt too ashamed to tell people what I really did, so I invented this fantasy rock’n’roll world that I was part of. I got away with it for about 6 months until I started hanging around with a Portuguese band called The Parkinsons and one night when they were playing a gig, Victor from the band shouted out from the stage, “Dominic, what’s the name of your band!” and after a few seconds of uneasy silence I said we were called The Others. The next thing I knew, The Parkinsons were having a word with the promoter about putting us on in a fortnight’s time, so I had two weeks to write some songs and get a band together! The thing was, The Parkinsons were my friends and I didn’t want to lose face, so I phoned up the guitarist (James) from the first band I’d been in years before, and explained the situation and he agreed to do the gig. He also found a bass player, John, who’s been with the Others ever since, and then we found a guy called Ollie, who was a really good jazz drummer, and within three days we’d wrote six songs, two of which (‘Almanac’ and ‘King Prawn’ aka ‘Wolves At Your Door’) we still use today. We played the show – fortunately The Parkinsons brought all their fans down so the place was rammed – and everything went well. So well in fact that the guy who signed Franz Ferdinand came up to us at the end and asked us when our next gig was.”
It was earlier this year when The Others first caught the attention of the mainstream devotees of Indie-land when their DIY ethic call-to-arms single ‘This Is For The Poor’ was released to a hail of good reviews, including an NME single of the week award. A somewhat autobiographical tale of Masters’ struggles through a difficult childhood and adolescence, ‘This Is For The Poor’ also paints an ironic picture of what its like for any up and coming artists trying to make it in the music industry.
“I was brought up on social security. My mother and father got divorced when I was four years old. Then it was just me and my mum, and we had to advertise for a lodger in the house to help pay the bills. It meant I didn’t always get the pair of jeans or trainers I wanted and I had a lot of second hand clothes. My mum was dealing hash at the time to help us get through and it was a really depressing time, and when I wrote ‘This Is For The Poor’, ‘Lackey’ and ‘Psycho Vision’ I had a really horrible job. I used to get up at 730 every morning to go to work in this office where I was getting paid next to nothing, all of which went on rent. ’This Is For The Poor’ just seemed to be a poignant epitaph of disillusionment that working class kids like myself could relate to.”
Recent download single ‘Psycho Vision’ tells an even more harrowing story of Dominic Masters – the infant years.
“I never grew up with my mum and my dad, my mum dealt from a terraced house, I did acid before I smoked hash, I never wanted to sell my ass, I don’t want to be a different son, I’ll just fuck about with anyone – that bit is about my bisexuality. Nearly all of my lyrics are written in the first person, where most other songwriters are scared to be so personal.”
Virtually the entire Others repertoire deals with certain issues and events surrounding Dominic Masters’ personal life. ‘William’ is about the platonic love he and his best friend from his schooldays in Somerset share, while ‘Darren, Daniel, David’ addresses the tragic deaths of three of the singer’s best friends.
“They all died within a 12 month period. Those three deaths affected me to the point where it took me five years before I could write a song that would do them justice.”
At the turn of the year The Others signed to Mercury Records offshoot Vertigo for £135,000, which would have most unsigned bands licking their lips in anticipation. However, Dominic Masters takes a more philosophical viewpoint over what happens to the so-called lucrative deals offered to bands like The Others.
“That deal was the second biggest recording contract given out to a previously unsigned band this year. When you break it down to where all the money actually goes though, it doesn’t actually amount to that much. You take £35,000 out of that to pay the record producer, £10,000 to pay the band’s lawyer, £7,000 to pay off our debts which we incurred up to that point where we were signed, then you can add another £20,000 to pay the manager, who to be fair has worked free for us for the past 10 months. The rest we divide four ways between each band member, which then has to last from the moment we sign up to the point of making the album and any promotional expenditure we might incur along the way. Divide that sum over an 18 month period and deduct the tax and National Insurance and that works out at barely £1000 a month if you’re lucky, so you’re looking at a £200-250 a week rock’n’roll star on the second biggest recording contract this year, so you tell me, is that glamorous? The £135,000 is only an advance which you’ve got to pay back by way of record sales, because they see you as a commodity, a product that benefits their business.”
Having been courted by a cluster of major labels for a good three months before they actually signed with Vertigo, it would have been against the principles of The Others to have just taken the first deal on offer and run with the money.
“There was no way that I was going to let the band get ripped off. I spoke with EMI, Sony, Island/Warner, BMG, Zomba Publishing, Virgin, Wichita, and in the end it came down to the most viable form of financial security for the band, which you’ve heard about already, so as you can imagine some of the offers on the table were totally unacceptable. We were actually offered £150,000 by one record company but we refused that because they wanted total control over everything from how we looked to how we sounded, total control over the tour agent, press agent and management as well.”
Perhaps the biggest impact made by The Others this year has been the almost military precise organisation behind their legendary guerrilla gigs, which has seen the band play on a tube train, on a bus, in a circus tent,in Dominic Masters' tiny one bedroomed flat, in the middle of a busy ring road and on the Abbey Road zebra crossing among other venues not normally listed in ‘Time Out’. It was also at one of these unofficial “gatherings” that their 853 Kamikaze Stage Diving Division following got their name.
“After about a year of playing live we noticed some strange things happening that didn’t happen to other bands. We noticed that there’d be 100-150 people who’d regularly turn up at our gigs to crowd surf and stage dive, and yet we were still unsigned. If you look at an Others fan and try and define what he or she would like like…well it’s pretty impossible really because they’re a rag-bag collective, so that’s where the ‘Kamikaze Stage Diving Division’ bit comes from, because I thought it would be degrading to them to just call them Others fans. The ‘853’ bit comes from one night where we played a gig at the Red Rose in Finsbury Park. Initially when we started off playing in London, we’d always end up having a party back at my flat in Bethnal Green, which is in the East End, so I had to get 120-130 kids from Finsbury Park back to mine and it was in the middle of a tube strike. So what we did was get everyone on board these two double decker buses all the way back to the East End, and when we got back to Bethnal Green, everyone was in high spirits and Ben Bailey, who’s the lead singer of Thee Unstrung, saw this really beautiful car – it might have been a Bentley or a Mercedes – and the number plate read ‘853’ and Ben got a screwdriver, whipped that part of the plate off and the 853 Kamikaze Stage Diving Division were christened.”
With a self-titled album due out in January 2005 – a collection which Dominic Masters proudly declares will be “the ‘Definitely Maybe’ for the zeros”, expect to see The Others and the rapidly increasing 853 Kamikaze Stage Diving Division in a city near you in the not too distant future.